Consumers have never been more careful about how they spend their money. Savvy shoppers are looking for quality products and a personalised service, as well as value for money - and they are prepared to spend more on the right supplier. So how can you meet their expectations?
1. Review your product portfolio
Before you decide whether to adapt your products or services, take a look at what you have. How well are you meeting the needs of existing customers? Which lines are selling well, and which ought to be dropped?
2. Keep up to date with changes in your sector
Tough times inspire ingenious thinking, and there are bound to have been changes in every sector in recent years. Has technology has moved on? Have people changed their sales and marketing techniques? What new trends are emerging?
Talk to customers and suppliers, and subscribe to industry magazines and newsletters to find out what’s going on in your sector.
3. Consider how to expand your existing offer
You don’t need to make wholesale changes - it may just be a matter of tweaking what you have. One option is to introduce a premium range of products or services, for example, or you could offer greater seasonal variation in what you sell.
You could also try ‘bundling’ your products and services, or adding new services that complement your existing products - for example, offering reduced-rate servicing for the first three years on a newly installed boiler.
4. Complement and diversify
Many firms have successfully scaled up by offering related products and services or by diversifying into new areas: for example, garden centres selling household furniture, building firms providing DIY training, office-based firms renting desk space to freelancers, and so on.
If you plan to branch out, do your research first and don’t stray far from your area of expertise.
5. Offer added value to customers
If funds are tight, think about offering new added-value services rather than investing in fresh stock or equipment.
For example, free local delivery, weekend opening, technical support, free returns or special offers for repeat customers won’t cost the earth, but can strengthen loyalty and improve customer satisfaction.
6. Create new partnerships
Opportunities to build new relationships often arise as markets change. Why not consider a joint venture or partnership with another business which serves a slightly different - but related - market?
7. Reconsider the way you sell and who you sell to
It may not be your product or service that is holding you back, but your approach to sales and marketing.
Market pressure often inspires innovation - for example, the Nintendo Game Boy was rebranded for a more senior age group when other manufacturers introduced systems that were more appealing to the core gamer market. This clever move extended its market reach and its longevity.
Could your offer be repackaged for a completely new market?
8. Ask customers and suppliers what they think
Before making any proposed changes, find out whether your customers and suppliers think you’re doing the right thing. If you need more stock, equipment or services, can you work out a deal with suppliers?
Does your revamped offer actually meet customers’ needs, and would they be prepared to pay for it? Have a trial period and pay attention to feedback.
9. Expand into new sales channels
A key way to improve your offer without actually changing it is to make it easier and more convenient to find and to buy:
- if you can sell online, then do so;
- attend trade fairs and shows if appropriate;
- explore third-party sales opportunities, such as retail outlets and even franchising;
- recruit a sales agent or a distributor to investigate and open up new territories, including overseas.
In short, explore the possibilities to reach the most customers in the most cost-effective ways.
10. Create an ongoing feedback process
However and wherever you sell, ensure your customers have the opportunity to rate and comment on the standards of your goods and services.
Make sure you have a short customer satisfaction survey at the point of sale, and make customers feel as comfortable as possible offering their opinion verbally.
Listen and respond to feedback, and use it to further improve your offer.